A Seventeenth-Century Melami Take on Caliphate: Sari Abdullah Efendi (d. 1660) and his Advice Manuals

By Ekin Tusalp Atiyas
Submitted to Session P5119 (Ruler of the East and the West: Notions of Universal Rule in Early Modern Ottoman History, 1400-1800, 2018 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
13th-18th Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
A Seventeenth-Century Melami Take on Caliphate: Sari Abdullah Efendi (d. 1660) and his Advice Manuals
Sari Abdullah Efendi (d. 1660) an early seventeenth-century Ottoman chief scribe was also one of the most renowned Sufi intellectuals of his time and a famous Mesnevi commentator. This paper focuses on two works which are attributed to Sari Abdullah Efendi. The first one, "The Advice to Rulers in Anticipation of Good Ways" addressed the young Ottoman sultan Mehmed IV a year into his reign and aimed at -as the author puts it- protect statesmen from engaging in oppression and making mistakes. The other advice work includes selections from the Ibn Arabi corpus, primarily the Futuhat. In these works which can be categorized as the specimens of Ottoman advice literature, Sari Abdullah Efendi builds an ontological landscape where he tackles with various questions of belief, existence, piety, knowledge and politics. This paper first seeks to locate Sari Abdullah Efendi’s formulation of caliphate in the long genealogy of what has been recently called as “the mystical turn” in Ottoman political thought. It will also address questions as to how caliphate was envisioned in parallel ontological spheres, how different levels of spiritual knowledge and power corresponded with one another and under what kind of circumstances the requirements of caliphate were fulfilled. On this last question, the paper will emphasize Sari Abdullah Efendi’s unique conceptualizations such as reis-i melamiyye (“the melami chief”), zahir hilafet (known caliphate) and batin hilafet (esoteric caliphate). By transporting such Melami-oriented ideas and concepts dating from the sixteenth to the seventeenth century, Sari Abdullah offered an alternative to the Sharia-infused vocabulary created by its highly confessionalized politics.